Rise of pickleball pitting neighbor against neighbor, leading to lawsuits

As Arizona’s Family Investigates found, pickleball and the noise that comes with it is pitting neighbor against neighbor, in some cases leading to lawsuits.
Updated: Feb. 13, 2023 at 6:00 AM MST
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PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) - Described as a mix between tennis, badminton and ping-pong, pickleball is the fastest growing sport in the U.S.

And these new converts need a place to play, which has left many cities, towns and homeowners associations trying to keep pace. In some cases, these passionate, zealous fans are advocating that basketball and tennis courts be converted into pickleball courts. As Arizona’s Family Investigates found, it’s pitting neighbor against neighbor, in some cases leading to lawsuits.

It only took a couple of games for Tyler Minton and his wife, Clarissa, to determine they were pickleballers. “It’s easy to pick-up,” Clarissa said. “Then you’re pretty competitive and everybody can play,” Tyler explained.

The Minton’s often play at Phoenix’s Encanto Park. Over the last couple of years, the city has tried to meet the growing demand. They said they’ve converted tennis courts into pickleball courts at two parks, with another in the works. Scottsdale said it’s also changed over courts at three parks. But in private communities, those changes are more complicated.

“Painful. It has completely changed my life,” Debbie Nagle said. “Very distracting, the high-pitched sound ... you lose your concentration,” Michael Kucklinca, Nagle’s partner explained.

Nagle and Kucklinca shared video recordings from their backyard. In them, you hear the noise of the ball against the paddle and the back and forth between players. “I can no longer enjoy my backyard or open my windows. I can’t have company out here,” Nagle said.

The North Scottsdale homeowners said their HOA, Stonegate Community Association, didn’t consult them when they converted a nearby tennis court into two pickleball courts. “My problem is that the HOA didn’t do due diligence. They didn’t do a sound study prior to putting the courts in,” Nagle said.

Lance Willis with S&W Acoustics and Noise Control sees it all the time. He’s called in to do noise mitigation studies. “It’s intrusive, it’s a high onset rate, which is similar to other high impact sounds,” Willis said. “The thing that people complain about is the popping sound the paddle, when the ball hits the paddle.”

There are also just more people that can play at one time. In conversions, a tennis court is turned into two pickleball courts. That means you can have up to 8 people playing in the same space.

Willis advises against change overs. He’s usually called in once they’ve been done. “This is a sound level meter, it’s a type one meter,” Willis said.

He showed Arizona’s Family Investigates what a study like this involves. He sets up at the impacted homeowner’s property line to capture the sound. “We need to separate the paddle impacts from the background noise level,” Willis said. “We do a complete model of the ground, we include topology, the sound sources on the pickleball court.”

He uses that data to develop a noise abatement plan. It comes down to putting something between the court and the homeowner, often in the form of a wall. But Willis admits it doesn’t always fix the problem.

“Pickleball really is different and it needs to be planned for differently than other sports,” he said. Willis advises courts be at least 150 feet from homes. In the case of the Nagle’s, it’s just 65 feet.

A sound expert recommends that pickleball courts be installed at least 150 feet away from...
A sound expert recommends that pickleball courts be installed at least 150 feet away from homes. In the case of one Scottsdale homeowner, the court is 65 feet away from their property.(Arizona's Family Illustration)

Stonegate confirms it recently called in a noise expert. They recommended building two 12-foot walls at a cost of $140,000. Homeowners, including Nagle and Kucklinca, voted it down. “The HOA’s are trying to make everyone happy, so it’s kinda hard for them,” Nagle said.

The last resort for many is suing. Attorney Robert Ducharme, who’s based in New Hampshire, has handled several of these cases.

“It’s a new noise and people aren’t used to it and they’re not sure how to handle it yet,” Ducharme said. He explains that in private communities, HOA boards control the common areas.

“Courts have routinely said that as long as they’re not doing anything blatantly illegal, like saying you can kill someone who loses at pickleball, they can do anything they want,” Ducharme said. He tells homeowners, “be very careful with your vote, these are the people you are seeding power to.”

Arizona’s Family Investigates asked if homeowners have won any of these lawsuits. “I haven’t seen anyone win one yet and I would be surprised if they did,” Ducharme said.

In a statement, the Stonegate Community Association wrote:

The two pickleball courts were installed several years ago in addition to the existing tennis courts in the recreational area. While they have since proven to be a very popular amenity amongst many residents, there are some neighboring residents who have expressed annoyance at the noise associated with the courts while they are in use. The Association takes all resident concerns seriously and several months ago took the step of limiting the pickleball courts hours of use in order to address the noise complaints while balancing the desire of the other residents to continue to have the use of the courts.

In an effort to be as responsive as possible to the noise complaints, the Association also consulted with a sound abatement specialist to determine what sound abatement modifications could be made, so as to further minimize the noise coming from the courts. While the Board was prepared to move forward with such modifications, the cost thereof exceeded the Board’s threshold spending limit without obtaining the consent of the Association’s Members. The matter was then put before the Members for a vote, which failed to pass.

“It’s a great sport I’m sure, and my problem isn’t really with them,” Nagle said.

Both explained what they’d like to see happen next. “Ideally to have the courts removed,” Kucklinca said.

The couple said they intend to file a lawsuit. They said limiting the hours people can play hasn’t really helped. The courts have become so popular there’s always people playing.

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